Like Britten's War Requiem, Sir Michael Tippett's oratorio (cum requiem?) titled A Child Of Our Time is something of an acquired taste. Each composer worked in a tonally-based idiom without belonging to any particular composer's school of their original contemporary musical era in the last century. Each seems to have found his own personal musical way.
Tippett's work combines orchestra, choir, and soloists in a panoramic work of color, sweep, dramatic narrative, and lyric meditation. This work owes as much to, say, Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky as it does to Verdi and all the other great requiems, not to mention how indebted its shapes are, to all the ideas of an orchestral song cycle writ large, springing from Berlioz Les nuits d'ete, all the way to Mahler's song cycles, thence to Britten's Spring Symphony, to Bernstein's Songfest. Behind all of these stands that mountain range of high peaks, JS Bach's passions.
The choral writing is often angular with bracing corners and clear, criss-crossing lines in that distinctive British choral manner, already familiar from Walton or William Matthias or others around and after the great world wars. Like other musical works of this scope and depth, the chorus gets multiple assignments - helping to paint the scene and set the scene, commenting like a tragic Greek chorus upon fateful turns, backing up the soloists and introducing them as voices bigger than solitude, rooting the solo singers in this or that musical context compelling.
Sir Colin Davis must like this work, and believe in it. He has recorded it too many times for his devotion to be either marketing driven or accidental. He competes with himself, then, in at least two other recordings where he has led the likes of the BBC Symphony (with soloists Janet Baker and Jesseye Norman), or of the Dresden Staatskapelle. He is also up against some pretty stiff recorded competition from Previn with the Royal Philharmonic, and the composer himself inspiring the City of Birmingham Symphony.
Not to worry. This performance ranks right up there with the others. To my ears, none of them sound wrong, really. Perhaps that is just a function of my continuing new long acquaintance as I continue to befriend and delve repeatedly into this surprisingly compact, many-layered work.
The soloists in this recording all sound young, and have hardly built up the world class reputations we can contentedly associate with, say, Dame Janet Baker whose fame is solid gold by now. But no soloist is weak or uncommitted, even if none are famously acclaimed at the end of long distinguished careers.
The African American spirituals which crown Tippett's work are all taken from hallowed local church music traditions. And no, nobody sounds very Black Baptist in the choir. But so what? Tippett ensconces the spiritual where it no doubt belongs, at musical pinnacle moments, heartfelt, outspoken, direct, appealing, stirring.
This is a sad music, not happy. Our world is suffering, and we mourn with those who mourn so many different things all around the planet. Yet as theologian James Cone urged us to understand, we are affirming human life even when we belt out the blues with every ounce of faltered and wounded strength we dredge up at the sad moments.
Highly recommended, then, in vivid surround sound multiple channel super audio. A life affirming set of gold review stars, then.